- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Four Shelby County schools will convert to charter schools under the state-run Achievement School District next year.

The Commercial Appeal reports (https://bit.ly/1O1TBju) the conversions were announced Friday, just a few days after a Vanderbilt University study suggested the schools would be better off in the local district’s Innovation Zone, also known as the iZone.

While the Achievement Schools District removes low-performing schools from local control, usually placing them with nonprofit charter operators, iZone schools remain in the local district but with special leeway to make changes, similar to charter schools.

The decision over converting the schools has been controversial, with parents and officials holding news conferences and rallies. In one rally just before the announcement, state Rep. Antonio Parkinson compared the Achievement School District to the Tuskegee experiment, a gruesome medical experiment where black people with syphilis were left untreated.

Parkinson pledged to seek a reallocation of school turnaround resources, and in a written statement said he is exploring options to prevent at least one school from shifting to the Achievement School District’s control.



Incoming ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson called Parkinson’s comments “very unfortunate” and defended the district.

The ASD “is far from experimental,” she said. “This is a promise made and a promise kept.”

The Vanderbilt study, released Tuesday, found iZone schools have sizeable positive effects on student test scores, while the ASD’s effects are “mainly statistically insignificant.” That means students in those schools are generally performing at the same levels they would have if their schools had not been taken over.

In a statement, ASD officials said it was too early to draw any conclusions.

“The tough work of school turnarounds take time - the study itself says it takes up to five years for the reforms to take meaningful hold,” the statement reads.

Lead researcher Ron Zimmer agreed but said that is what makes the iZone’s success remarkable.

“I think the iZone schools are showing promising results that we can feel good about, and they showed them almost immediately,” he said.

In Memphis, which has the state’s highest concentration of low-performing schools, the ASD currently oversees 27 schools, and the iZone has 18. School districts in Nashville and Chattanooga operate smaller iZones as well, and the ASD also oversees two Nashville schools.

SCS is expected to announce next week which schools will be added to the iZone next year.

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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, https://www.commercialappeal.com

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